There are several varieties of legumes, and they form the mainstay of the diet on the subcontinent of India. Also called dals, they are considered to be very healthful and nutritive, and are extremely rich in protein and potassium. In India legumes are available both as fresh vegetables and as dried peas, beans, or lentils.
Always wash legumes four or five times under cold running water prior to cooking. Some varieties of legumes should be soaked overnight to tenderize and save cooking time, as indicated in the recipes of my cookbooks.
The following legumes are available at Indian grocery stores, and most of them can be found at your local supermarkets.
Black gram or black chick-peas (kala chana) are a smaller variety than the chole and should be soaked in water prior to cooking. They are widely used in Rajasthan and western India.
Black-eyed peas or cowpeas (lobia) are white kidney shaped beans with a black “eye.” This variety of legume is popular in North India, South America, and Africa.
Chick-peas or garbanzos (chole or kabuli chana) should be soaked in water overnight to tenderize them and reduce the cooking time. These legumes are used widely in Middle Eastern and South American cuisine as well. Eastern hummus, for example, is made from the garbanzo.
Pigeon peas (arhar dal or toovar dal) are small yellow split peas used predominantly in South India.
Pink Lentils (masoor dal) are small and salmon-colored and take less than 20 minutes to cook.
Red kidney beans (rajma) are large kidney-shaped beans. They should be soaked in water overnight to tenderize them and reduce the cooking time. This variety of legume is very popular in Punjabi and Rajasthani cuisine.
Red mung beans (mowth dal) are particularly popular in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Round green or yellow split peas (matar dal) are excellent for soups and lentil curries. However, they do need to be soaked for an hour prior to cooking.
Split black beans or gram (urid dal) are pale cream in color and cook to a thick consistency. This variety is very popular in South Indian cuisine.
Split yellow mung beans (moon dal) are split mung beans. In India this variety is served to invalids and babies.
Whole black beans (ma-ki-dal) are a favorite in the Punjab and the frontier country. They are usually cooked with abundant ginger and spices and served fresh with chapatis.
Whole mung beans (sabot moong dal) are the beans that produce the very popular bean sprouts used in salads and Oriental dishes.
Yellow split peas, also known as split chick-peas or garbanzos (chana dal) are the most widely used dal. The gram flour, or besan, is used to make pakoras (hors d’oeuvres) and is versatile as a sauce thickener.
Dal is always prepared in combination with pungent herbs and spices, such as garlic, ginger, onion, black pepper, chilies, mustard seeds, asafoetida, cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, onion seeds, salt, and oil or clarified butter.
The seasoning technique (baghar or tarka) is always the same: In a small pan, heat some oil or ghee and add the required amount of cumin and mustard seeds. When the seeds start popping, add the chopped onion, ginger, garlic, crushed red dried chilies, and a pinch of asafoetida. Stir and cook for a minute, removing the pan from the heat. This blend of seasoning is used to garnish cooked lentils served with rice or chapatis (roti).
Zucchini Lentils (Tori ka Dal)
1 pound pink lentils, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes
2 quarts water
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground dried red chilies
Salt to taste
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 medium chopped onions, peeled and chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
1 ½ -piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and chopped fine
1 large tomato, chopped
2 pounds zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
Wash the lentils and boil them in the water with the turmeric, ground chili, and salt over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the cumin seeds and fry until golden brown. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and fry until browned. Add the tomato and stir until soft. Remove and mix with the lentils; cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes. Mix in the zucchini and cook for another 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve hot as a soup or with chapatis or plain rice and accompanying entrees.
Check out my cookbooks Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables (1991, 2015) and India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine: The Art of Indian Curry Cooking (Editor’s Choice, 2016) at www.feastofindia.net .